22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Neel Mukherjee

Neel Mukherjee was born in Calcutta, India, in 1970. He studied English Literature at Oxford and Cambridge.

Mukherjee’s first novel, »Past Continuous«, was published in India in 2008. The novel’s protagonist is a young man from Calcutta who travels to England to pursue his studies but leaves Oxford soon thereafter and becomes an illegal immigrant in London. To escape the loneliness and alienation he feels, he begins to write a story about a genteel lady who teaches English, music and Western manners in India at the beginning of the 20th century. In the course of the novel the narrative hives off; past and present converge. In Great Britain »Past Continuous« appeared in 2010 under the title »A Life Apart« and earned tremendous praise from critics, who described it as »wild«, »dizzying« and »heartbreaking«. In 2009, the book received the Vodafone-Crossword Book Award in India as well as the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for Best Novel in 2010. Mukherjee’s second novel, »The Lives of Others« (2014), made him an international sensation. Yet again, the setting is Calcutta. Using flashbacks and foreshadowing, Mukherjee tells the complex saga of an upper-middle-class dynasty beginning in the year 1967. At the center of this story is Supratik, the oldest representative of the generation of grandchildren. He breaks ties with his family and joins a Maoist guerrilla group in an effort to educate the lower classes about engaging in armed struggle. Supratik’s move to the underground heralds the family’s demise. In Germany, the novel is often referred to as the »Indian Buddenbrooks«, and Mukherjee has acknowledged that Thomas Mann’s work was a great influence on this Bengali family panorama. Indeed, Mukherjee’s prose owes much to a precise form of realism, and its elegance is highly captivating: however, at the same time, the author does not shy away from an almost unbearable portrayal of violence and torture. The »Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung« noted that the novel »sucks readers into a labyrinthine, microcosmic ›theatre of the world‹, transfixing them right up to the very last page«. In fact, anyone interested in reading Mukherjee’s novel should make sure they have strong nerves before picking up the book. According to the »Neue Zürcher Zeitung« the novel constitutes »the portrait of a society in which prestige and social appearance alone are paramount; morals, on the other hand, do not count for anything at all«. Ultimately, Mukherjee is taking aim at the present, which he suggests is merely a dreadful repetition of the past. In 2014, »The Lives of Others« was shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize and won the Encore Award for best second novel that same year.

Neel Mukherjee lives in London.